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Texas GOP Congressional Candidate Uses Fake Border Patrol Agent In Political Ad

A screenshot of a campaign commercial featuring Tony Gonzales with a fake Border Patrol agent.
A screenshot of a campaign commercial featuring Tony Gonzales with a fake Border Patrol agent.

The head of Customs and Border Protection says an ad from a Texas Congressional candidate with a fake Border Patrol agent is “not appropriate.”

Tony Gonzales, the Republican candidate for Texas’ 23rd District, has faced backlash for political advertisements featuring a volunteer dressed up as a Border Patrol agent.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol, states on its website that federal law prohibits “any abbreviation, symbol, emblem, seal” or any “colorable imitation” of its agency “in connection with any advertisement.”

The candidate’s campaign said the federal law only applies to commercial advertisements. 

“It does not, however, prohibit the use of government emblems and symbols for political debate — a fact supported by Supreme Court precedents — which is why the campaign remains confident that its advertisement complies with all legal and ethical standards,” Chris Gober, Gonzales’ campaign counsel, said in a statement.

On Friday, Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan told TPR News in an interview that he did not know the specifics of the incident but that imitating Border Patrol agents is inappropriate.

 

“That is an issue,” Morgan said. “Anybody that’s going to use alike, similar uniforms with intent to represent actual Border Patrol, I take exception to that. That’s absolutely not appropriate.”

 

Morgan said he was not seeking repercussions and would leave that to other entities. It is unclear if the Federal Election Commission will take action.

 
The campaign of his Democratic opponent Gina Ortiz Jones said Gonzales is on the “wrong side of the law.”

“It's no surprise that Tony Gonzales might have found himself on the wrong side of the law, again – and he's certainly on the wrong side of this issue,” said Gina Ortiz Jones Communications Director Sharon Yang, pointing to Gonzales’ stance on the border wall. 

In one of the ads in question, the narrator says Gonzales is “running for Congress to stand with President Trump, fight for our conservative values, secure our border, finish the wall and end Sanctuary City policies.” Gonzales is seen shaking the hand of a what appears to be a Border Patrol agent, but his campaign told The San Antonio Express-News that a “volunteer played the part of the officer.”

Gonzales isn’t the first candidate who has used law enforcement or Border Patrol officers in ads. A 2019 Donald Trump ad used clips of the president with real Border Patrol agents, The Express-News reported.

But the ad could still cause Gonzales trouble in the competitive race to replace Republican Will Hurd’s seat in the district that runs from San Antonio to El Paso.

“The concern... would be that you are misleading people,” said Renita Coleman, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and media ethics expert. “This guy was not really a Border Patrol agent. This was an actor and this was all for show, and so the people who would already not be inclined to vote for you would (say) ‘See that guy is a bad guy. He’s not ethical.’”

Gonzales has already faced questioning from some conservatives, including the El Conservador Facebook group. On the other hand, Coleman said Gonzales’ supporters will likely not become concerned over the issue.

But with the November election approaching, she said political ads are more likely to cause controversy.

“As soon as Labor Day hits, I anticipate seeing all kinds of dirty, attack political ads come out,” she said. 

District 23 encompasses 58,000 square miles from west San Antonio to the outer edges of El Paso and down to Carrizo Springs.

Will Hurd represented the district for three terms and announced he wouldn’t seek re-election last year. He was the only Republican representing a district on the U.S.-Mexico border.

María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria.

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